It has been hard to miss the UNC-CH athletics scandal that the university settled by paying $18 million for the legal defense that the grade-inflating non-courses ‘met their academic standards and were available to all students.’ Just recently there was controversy over UNC history professor Jay Smith’s battle to continue to teach an honors course about this scandal based on his book, “Cheated,” co-written with whistle-blower/tutor Mary Willingham. Problems like this have to be acknowledged, studied, and illuminated to keep them from reoccurring.
You might think that with the escalation of university tuition that all university teachers are well-compensated. What few UNC alumni probably know is that over 50 percent of courses at UNC and many other universities are taught by adjuncts, underpaid professors with no job security making as little as our public school teachers.
In this era of astronomically rising tuition, it makes me furious that $18 million was spent to defend the practice of substandard or no-standard courses to keep athletes academically eligible in their profit sport. The obscene amount of money spent and legal obfuscation used to keep NCAA punishment away from vacating UNC-CH sports titles tarnishes the flagship school of the UNC system.
Many well-qualified adjunct professors have no hope of having reasonable pay or tenure-track positions because of the systematic and cost-saving practice of hiring adjunct professors to teach the bulk of classes in our “right to work” state. As tenured professors retire, departments lose these positions or replace them with low-pay and low-benefit adjunct positions with no job security.
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Even private schools engage in this practice; adjuncts and part-time instructors teach about 30 percent of Duke classes. In 2017, Duke University became the first southern university to unionize its adjunct faculty with the support of tenured faculty, knowing academic excellence will suffer if excellent faculty cannot be retained. Perhaps UNC will be shamed into competing with rival Duke’s big step towards living wages for adjunct professors.
The athletes and any other students who received degrees based on bogus classes were cheated of a meaningful diploma. Underpaid professors are being cheated out of a living wage even with years of experience, research and academic excellence. Students who pay expensive tuition are cheated when academically excellent professors cannot afford to continue in fields they love or are replaced with cheaper lecturers with no job security.
The legislature is rapidly degrading universities that attract students from all over the country and the world while still touting its commitment to academic excellence. UNC’s reputation is rotting at its core with the decisions of administrators and legislators. Winning at sport is not worth losing academic quality and reputation.
Teachers all over the country need our voices, our support and our tax dollars. Besides parenting, teaching is the most important job in the world. We must fully fund and respect teaching. I am committed to encouraging universities to reexamine and recommit to their primary function — excellence in educating. In the long view of history, which is more important — academic and intellectual excellence, or athletic elitism?
Jeannine DesVergers Reese is a 1973 graduate of UNC-CH who currently resides in Sanford.
Correction: An earlier version of this op-ed incorrectly said adjuncts teach 69 percent of Duke classes.